After this trip, I have realized the potential of TEA TOURISM in INDIA. The visit to Kurseong and its tea gardens gave me basic knowledge around tea for the rest of my life and by the time I was back from Margaret’s Hope Tea Lounge, I had already developed new eyes and a different nose for tea.
On 7th Feb, I started at 11 a.m. from Delhi Aiport to reach Bagdogra at 1:30 p.m. I was supposed to travel to Kurseong, a sweet little, quintessential hill station in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state of West Bengal. I was traveling to one beautiful part of our country and I was excited to be a part of a familiarization trip organized by Goodricke Group, a brand synonymous with the finest teas that are heralded the world over. 10 bloggers/travel writers from different cities were flying down to explore and experience its first flagship Tea Lounge – Goodricke’s Tea Pot. (Margaret’s Deck)
The moment I touched base at Bagdogra airport, I was immediately taken over by nostalgia. The lovely memories from the Bhutan road trip took over me. Thankfully, the driver met me at the exit gate and drove me straight to the land of tea gardens and Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. The distance from Bagdogra airport to Kurseong is 60kms and the road trip called for an uphill drive of nearly 2 hours. Situated at an altitude of 1458 mts (4860ft), the steep and narrow bends kept me entertained all the way. But as a whole, it was a peaceful drive. (Such a contrast to the Delhi traffic or the hills in the North.)
The press note had helped me create a lovely impression of the tea lounge though I really did not know what the trip held for someone like me who relished tea only occasionally. My understanding around the ‘Tea palate’ was almost zilch. And there were many moments when I was completely tongue-tied due to my lack of knowledge of the wonderful world of tea. But now when I look at this trip in terms of my learnings, acquaintances with the varieties of Darjeeling Tea, their tastes, the food that was served at the lounge, visiting the Tea Garden and exploring Kurseong, I would say this trip was one-of-its-kinds. It helped me identify a new world of tea and helped me see tea tourism at its roots.
WHAT IS MARGARET’S DECK (TEA LOUNGE)?
The lounge offers a full range of teas (hot and iced), as well as pastries, premium chocolates, tea accessories, and loose teas for taking home or giving as gifts. It creates a perfect atmosphere for a comfortable and stress-free time, where one can enjoy a broad menu of home-brewed tea based drinks, prepared in accordance with various traditions from all over the world. And the best thing is that one does not need to be a tea specialist to appreciate the good things about it. Goodricke Teapot will make everyone fall in love with global tea culture and traditions.
1st EVENING IN KURSEONG
By the time we reached our hotel, it was already 4:30. I could sense chill in the air and I was hungry too. First thing first when you are in hill stations in India, I ordered some momos and tea. There wasn’t much time to do anything else because we were supposed to report at Margaret’s Deck Tea Lounge at 5 p.m. The lounge was located 15 minutes drive away from the place where we were staying. The drive helped us to break the ice as we met other bloggers. Also it gave me my first impression of Kurseong as I looked through the colorful houses of the lovely town and chased the tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways which ran parallel to the road.
Soon we reached our destination and gastronomy haven for next two days. The entrance was very cute and promised a cozy interior. The walls of the hall had lots of information around Darjeeling Tea, its history, process and in general about tea. And by the time I walked to the deck area and looked over the vastness of tea gardens, I was already in love with this unique setup. The whole idea of the lounge came kicking and alive. I was glad to be here and I must confess that I had never been to a place like this before. Instead of heading to the restaurant area, we all walked back to the main hall where an interesting tea tasting session waiting for us. It took a while to settle down because we all got busy in savoring the moments and clicking pictures for later use. In the meanwhile, I read through the graphics on the wall. It educated us about the place as well as tea.
A little more background!
The tea garden at the base of the lounge-Margaret Hope’s Tea Estate is a 150-year-old tea estate, fondly remembered as the Bada Rington, which was named Margaret Hope in fond memory of the daughter of the then manager of the tea estate in the early 20th century. The Margaret’s Hope estate is now spread across 586.16 hectares. Although set up in the 1830s, the garden became commercially viable only in 1864. Today, the garden’s high-altitude tea buds are harvested in spring and are prized by connoisseurs all over the world.
The hosts were eagerly looking forward to meeting us and treating us with lots of tea goodness. 5 varieties of tea had been brewed for us about before we tasted them, the session from Mr. Katyal was the best thing that happened that evening. He gave us many perspectives around aroma, flavor, body, color, clarity of tea leaves and the cup of drinks made from them. And just like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the future of tea lies in the hands of the tea taster. No doubt, the quality of tea is important but its stands of no use until it is identified by the taster. Ability to value is of high value in this industry.
SOME IMPORTANT POINTS THAT I LEANED AT THE TEA TASTING SESSION
0. No tea leaves are same. No two seasons can have same tea leaves output. Tea leaves have many layers to its characteristics. It unfolds it gradually.
1.I had no clue what tea tasters did until I saw it. So you don’t swallow the tea but suck it in. A tea taster swirls the liquid in the mouth and later spits it out. In this time, he/she evaluates the tea for its smell and taste.
2.We studied tea in its three forms- dry leaves, wet leaves and infused (liquid form)
3.The dry leaf helps one to know about the size of the leaves, its rolling and curling characteristics.
4.The liquid form, prepared by infusion helps to see the distinct color and later one can taste and smell it.
5. The wet leaves have a lot to say about the aroma and appearance of the leaves.
6. One must have a sensitive nose to be a great tea taster.
7. Darjeeling is famous for its unique “Muscatel flavour” and “Exquisite Banquet”. Most tea plants in Darjeeling are of the smaller leaf Camellia sinensis. It is famous for producing world class tea.
8. I also learned to identify the difference between black tea, green tea and Oolong tea. They all come from the same plant (camellia sinensis) but are differentiated by the level of oxidation they undergo.
9. The periodic harvests of tea are called flushes.
10. And I picked on some terminology too- Curly, Flacky, Nose, Palate, Bakey, Earthy, Burnt, Muddy, Grassy, etc.
Here is about Mr. KRISHAN KATYAL who was our guru that evening. He is the Chairman & Managing Director of J. Thomas & Co. Private Ltd., the oldest and largest Tea Auction firm in the world, and is a professional Tea Taster and Auctioneer. He joined J. Thomas in 1977, and was inducted into the Board of the Company in 2001. He has conducted generic Indian tea promotions on behalf of Tea Board India, Indian Tea Association and Darjeeling Tea Association at various International venues from 2003 onwards.
What followed after the session was as amazing as the tea experience. We sat down to discuss many tea tales over spiritual teas. Since it was a long table and there were travelers from around the world, there were many stories to share and cherish. It was only when some great food arrived that we chose to stop and indulge in eating. Here are some delicious pictures from the dinner table.
After the lovely dinner, we returned to our hotel to retire for the day. This experience doesnt end here. Watch out for more stories from Kurseong….